information was not an item to be traded, no matter how high the inducement. Arms from off-world, or the knowledge of their manufacture, were set behind a barrier of No Sale. When we planeted on such a world, all weapons other than belt stunners were put into a lock stass which would not be released until the ship rose from that earth. We also passed a brain lock inhibiting any such information being won from us.

This might seem to make us unarmed prey for any ambitious lord who might wish to wring us hard for such facts. But the law of the fair gave us complete immunity from danger—as long as we stayed within the limits set by the priests on the first day.

For following almost universal galactic custom, one which appeared to be spontaneous and native to every world where such gatherings had existed for ages, the fair ground was both neutral territory and sanctuary. Deadly enemies could meet there and neither dared put hand to weapon. A crime could be committed elsewhere and, if the criminal reached the fair and was law-abiding therein, he was safe from pursuit or punishment as long as the fair continued. The gathering had its own laws and police, and any crime committed within was given speedy punishment. So that this meeting place was also a site for the cautious sounding out between lords for the settlement of feuds, and perhaps the making of new alliances. The penalty for any man breaking the peace of the fair was outlawry—the same as a sentence of death, but perhaps in its way, more torturous and lingering for the criminal.

This much we all knew, though we sat in patience as the guide tape told it over again. For on a Trader one does not ever push aside any briefing as unnecessary or time-wasting. Then Foss launched once more into the apportioning of planetside duties. These varied in rotation among us from world to world. There was always a guard for the ship—but the rest of us could explore in pairs in our free time. From the morning gong until midafternoon we would man our own booth for meeting with native merchants. Foss had visited Yiktor once before, as second in command of theCoal Sack , before he had his own ship, and now drew upon his notes to refresh his memory.

As is true on all Free Traders, though the cargomaster handles the main cargo and the business of the ship at large, each member of the crew is expected to develop some special interest or speciality, to keep his eyes open, and to suggest new products which might add to the general prosperity of the voyage. Thus we were encouraged to explore all such marts in pairs and to take an interest in local produce, sniffing out a need of the natives which we might in the future supply, or picking up some hitherto overlooked export.

The main cargo from Yrjar was Lidj's concern; it was sprode, a thick juice pressed from certain leaves, then hardened into blocks which could be easily stored in our lowest hold after we had emptied it of bales of murano, a shimmering, thick silk which the Yiktor native weavers seized upon avidly. They patiently unraveled its threads to combine with their finest material, thus making a length go twice as far. Sometimes a lord would pay a full season's land tribute for a cloak length of unadulterated fabric. Thesprode blocks, transferred at section base to another ship, would end uphalfway across thegalaxy , where they were made into a wine which the Zacathans declared heightened their mental powers and cured several diseases of that ancient lizard race. Though I can't imagine why a Zacathan needed his mental powers heightened—they already had quite a start on mankind in that direction!

But the sprode would not provide a full cargo, and it was up to us to discover odds and ends to fill in. Guesses did not always pay off. There were times when what seemed a treasure turned out to be a worthless burden, eventually to be space-dumped. But gambles had done so well in the past that we were certain they would pay off again for all of us.

Any Trader with a lucky choice behind him had a better chance for advancement, with hopes for not too long a time before he could ask for an owner's contract and a higher share in a venture. It meant keeping your eyes open, having a good memory for things recorded on past voyage tapes, and probably having something which our elders called flair and which was a natural gift and nothing learned by study, no matter how doggedly pursued.

Of course, there were always the easy, spectacular things—a new fabric, a gem stone—eye catchers. But these were usually right out in the open. And the fair steerer made very sure that the cargomaster saw them at the first sighting when the big merchants met. On such sales as these depended perhaps all a planet's lure for off-world Traders, and they were publicly hawked.

The others were 'hiders,' things you nosed out on spec, almost always an obscure product some native merchant had brought to the booths on spec himself—small items which could be made into luxury trade for off- world, light, easy to transport, to sell for perhaps a thousand times cost price to the dilettanti of the crowded inner planets, who were always in search of something new with which to impress their neighbors.

Foss had had a storied success on his second voyage with the Ispan carpets, masterpieces of weaving and color which could be folded into a package no longer than a man's arm, yet shaken out in silken splendor to cover a great-room floor, wearing well, with a flow of shade into shade which delighted and soothed the eyes. My immediate superior, Lidj, was responsible for the Crantax dalho discovery. So it was that a very insignificant- appearing, shriveled black fruit had now become an industry which made the League a goodly number of credits, put Lidj on secondary contract, and benefited a quarter of a struggling pioneer planet. One could not hope for such breaks at the start of course—though I think that deep down inside all of us apprentices did—but there were smaller triumphs to bring a commendation for one's E record.

I went with Lidj and the captain to the in-meeting on first day. It was held in the Great Booth, which was really a hall of no mean dimensions on a field beyond the walls of Yrjar, now the center of the fair. While most Yiktorian architecture tended toward the gloom and dark of buildings which must always be ready to serve as fortifications in time of siege, the Great Booth, being free of such danger, was somewhat less grim. Its walls were of stone but only part way. Inside there was an open space almost the entire width, broken only by pillars which supported a sharply peaked roof, the eaves of which extended far out from the walls to afford good weather protection—though it was the dry season in which the fair was held and usually fine weather. The light thus given to the interior was far more than you could find in any building elsewhere on Yiktor.

We were the only Free Trader in port, though there was a licensed ship under Combine registry, carrying, by contract only, specified cargo which we did not dispute. This was one time when there was truce between off- worlders and no need for sharp maneuvering, our captains and cargo masters sharing the high seats of the senior merchants in amicability . The rest of us lesser fry were not so comfortably housed. We rated on a level with their second guildsmen and by rights would have had to stand in the outer aisles, save that we each bore, with a great deal of show, counting boards. These served the double duty of getting us inside with our officers, and impressing the native population that off-worlders were rather stupid and needed such aids for reckoning—always a beginning move in shrewd bargaining. We therefore squatted at the foot of the high-seat platform and took ostentatious notes of all the exhibits displayed and praised in the offering.

There were some furs from the north, a deep rich red with a ripple of golden light crossing them as they were turned in the hands of the merchant showing them. Fabrics were brought out by the bolt and draped over small racks put up by subordinates. There was a great deal of metalwork, mostly in the form of weapons. Swords and spears appear to be a universal primitive armament in the galaxy, and these were undoubtedly forged by masters who knew their art. There was chainlink armor for the body, helmets, some of them crested with miniature beasts or feathered birds, and shields. And then a last merchant came up with the air of one about to top the show of war materials. Two of his guildsmen exhibited shooting at a mark with a new type of crossbow which, from the stir his demonstration provoked, must have been a vast improvement over the usual.

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